If you’re reading this, chances are you could get in better shape. Don’t take it personally, the CDC estimates that more than 70% of Americans are overweight. In fact, your dog is probably not exactly in peak physical condition either, as 54% of domestic canines fall into the overweight or obese category.
So, it’s time to for both of you to get off the couch and start moving.
There are so many different ways to exercise with your dog, so most dog owners should be able to find an appealing sport or activity to try with their canine. You’ll need to invest in some equipment for a few popular activities, but others require nothing but space.
These activities also provide you with plenty of intensity options: Some will provide a high-intensity workout for your dog while letting you cruise along without breaking a sweat, while others will quicken your pulse and cause you to break a sweat, as you try to keep up with your pup.
Assuming you are both healthy enough to do so (more on that later), it is probably a good idea to try out a few different activities, to build some variety into your routine, which will help keep things fresh and interesting.
Walking is probably already a part of your daily routine if you live in an urban area and don’t have a backyard for your dog’s bathroom needs. But walking to the corner and back three times a day won’t burn many calories. Instead, you’ll want to walk for some distance with your dog. Although you should start with a short distance (perhaps one-quarter mile or around the block), you should eventually work your way up to a few miles a day.
If you want to incorporate some incredible scenery and fresh air into your walks, consider going hiking instead of walking around the neighborhood. Even the densest urban areas are typically within a short drive from some type of park, and your dog will thoroughly love all of the interesting smells he encounters on the hike.
The natural extension to walking and hiking, running allows you to cover more distance and burn more calories in a relatively brief time. Many long-term runners claim that running helps to boost their mood (the so-called “runner’s high”), and it isn’t a stretch to think that dogs can enjoy something similar – most dogs appear to have a great time while exercising.
However, running and jogging are both hard on your joints, so they aren’t ideal activities for all people and pooches. But several breeds – including Dalmatians, Siberian huskies and Rhodesian ridgebacks, among others – are natural-born runners, who will love racking up the miles with you.
No matter how fast you are, your dog can probably leave you in the dust if he is so inclined. But, you can reclaim your species superiority by jumping on your bike and having your dog run alongside you. You’ll not only be able to reach higher speeds on the back of a bike, you’ll be able to cover longer distances without exhausting yourself in the process.
This being the case, bicycling is a great option for out-of-shape owners who have athletic dogs, but it isn’t an ideal activity for experienced cyclists who own couch-potato pups. It requires a bit of coordination to ride a bike while attached to a dog, and you’ll have to slowly introduce your dog to the process to ensure the safety of all parties.
Agility trials or games require dogs to perform a number of different body movements and tasks as they complete an obstacle-filled course. Dogs are typically encouraged to complete the course as quickly as possible, and because you’ll need to run alongside him while he does, you’ll burn some calories and elevate your heart rate too.
Many dogs love learning to negotiate the various obstacles involved in agility trials, and the training process is both entertaining and stimulating for canines and owners alike. Additionally, training for agility trials will help reinforce basic obedience training and ensure that your dog remains well behaved.
Most vets, doctors, dogs and owners will agree that swimming is one of the very best ways to get some exercise. Swimming is fun for people and most dogs love jumping in and paddling around. But the benefits of swimming aren’t limited to fun and games – it is also a great way to burn a ton of calories without enduring very much impact in the process.
You don’t need much to start swimming with your dog (although a doggie life vest is always a good idea); in fact, the most difficult thing to come by is often a good place you can both swim. Just be sure to read your dog’s body language closely, and immediately return to dry ground if he starts getting tired.
Canicross is a hybrid activity, that combines aspects of running and hiking. But while it is similar to these sports, it provides a unique combination of benefits: Unlike running in urban areas, Canicross gives you the chance to enjoy better scenery; and unlike hiking, Canicross allows you to get your heart rate higher and burn more calories in a short amount of time.
To take up the sport, you’ll need a nice, long trail, a healthy and willing dog and a leash to connect the two of you together. It also requires a bit of training, as you’ll usually need to control your dog via specific voice commands. Canicross appears to be most popular in the UK, but there are a few Canicross clubs in the US, which can help you learn the basics of the sport.
Tracking work entails teaching your dog to seek out a predetermined item with his nose, in the way a police K9 or search-and-rescue dog may attempt to do so. It won’t provide you with a vigorous workout, but you will have to walk alongside your dog, so it will help you burn a few calories.
You can begin tracking work in your home or backyard, but you’ll eventually want to work up to large, outdoor spaces. If you need help teaching your dog to track or finding organized tracking activities, look for a local tracking club, who can help you learn the ropes.
Many dogs love to run alongside you as you kick a soccer ball, and some will even chase after it if kicked in their direction. Some dogs can be taught to nose the ball back toward you, but others will simply attack the ball like prey, and force you to run over and kick it back into play. But this doesn’t really matter – it's a great way to get some exercise with your dog, and it will provide a little excitement for your canine too.
If possible, purchase a mouth-sized soccer ball, so your dog can carry it back to you after chasing it down. It is also a good idea to select a very soft, flexible ball, so you don’t hurt your dog’s nose or face when passing him the ball.
Skijoring is somewhat similar to Canicross, except that instead of running alongside or behind your dog, you travel on cross-country skis instead. This obviously isn’t an activity everyone can enjoy, as you’ll need plenty of snow-covered ground to participate, but it provides a great workout and is a fun way to spend time with your dog.
It is important to remember that your dog’s feet can suffer from frostbite if forced to run through the snow unprotected, so be sure to invest in a good set of booties to protect his feet.
You and your pup didn’t become overweight overnight, so don’t expect your waistline to shrink after a single workout. It is going to take time to work your bodies back into shape. Accordingly, you’ll want to take it easy at the outset, and gradually increase the intensity of your workouts or the distance you cover.
Overworking yourself or your dog will only lead to exhaustion, aching muscles and potential injuries, which will set you back farther than if you had just skipped that last lap at the pool.
In fact, you should make an appointment with your doctor and your dog’s vet before getting started. This way, you can find out if you are both healthy enough to initiate an exercise regimen and if either of you has any limitations. Your doctor may, for example, recommend that you don’t engage in high-impact sports, or your vet may caution you to avoid swimming with your dog (some breeds are poorly suited for swimming).
Have you managed to keep you and your canine companion fit and healthy? What’s your secret? What types of exercise do you enjoy doing with your pup? Tell us all about your routine in the comments below.
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